Dr. Sughra Sadaf is a well-known short story writer, poet, columnist and culture activist. She has a number books to her credit which establish her credentials as a writer. She has a visible profile on our cultural landscape that she helps enrich with her literary and cultural praxis.

She, in her previous stint, as director general of Punjab Institute of Language and culture (Pilac) made the Institute a happening place with diverse programmes designed to cater to the socio-cultural needs of various segments of populace. Open to all activities which included literary events as well structured performances added to our metropolitan ethos. Dr. Sughra is deeply committed to promoting Punjab’s language and literature as a writer and culture activist. Latest sigh of her creative endeavours is her book of short stories “Birha Machh Machaya [Love’s Roaring Fire]” published by Ayesha Publications, Lahore. It has twelve stories which focus on woman, her predicament, her behavour in various situations and roles she plays or is forced to play because of dictates of over-arching patriarchy expressed in her experiences of dealing with joint family, gender inequality, misogyny and sexism.

In almost all the stories, Dr. Sughra uses first person singular to describe or narrate what she has to. Use of first person singular has upside as well as downside; it can give the narrative immediacy by providing it with a ring of credibility and can also mar it by making the omnipresent ‘I’ as suspect. Her use of it is reasonably convincing. Interestingly, it was great poet Damodar Gulati who used first person singular as a literary device in his poetic composition of legend of Heer in 16th/17th century which deceived many a critic into believing that the poet himself personally witnessed the whole saga in his life time.

Dr. Sughra’s ‘I’ has a broad canvass on which women from different societies and class perspectives are painted. Women, she shows us, face the same situation and existential problems regardless of their race, class and nationality. A woman whether she is a nanny in rural backwater, a university graduate in an urban centre or an earning hand in a metropolis in the West, she invariably finds the life a terrifying ordeal which haunts her like an ever-present spectre. Woman is deceived, emotionally-blackmailed, taken advantage of, repressed, exploited and played with no matter who she is and where she is. Her gender in a large measure determines her fate. She apparently reconciles with what is inflicted on her but never condones it. She can submit in the face of male violence but will never surrender. She will defy given half a chance. One of her powerful stories is “Haq [Right]” which encapsulates the sufferings and dilemma of Punjab’s woman. It’s a moving story of an educated young woman, who, imperceptibly manipulated, is forced to sacrifice her potentially fulfilling life at the altar of greed-driven debasing family values. The book adds to our understanding of women’s current situation at multiple levels from a female perspective. It’s obvious that the perspective of the oppressed is intrinsically more humane for it comes to us as a cry of protest against what dehumanizes. The book is a rewarding read.

Dr. Javaid Kanwal is a UK-based poet, writer and journalist who still seems to be well-connected with the social and cultural ethos of the Punjab. With a degree in journalism he has been associated with a host of Urdu and English newspapers. Javaid Kanwal’s strong point is his creativity which finds its best expression in poetry. He composes poetry in Punjabi, his mother language, which shows his irrevocable links with the cultural and linguistic roots of the land he moved away from. But moving away doesn’t necessarily mean forgetting it. In so many cases the opposite happens where sensitive minds like poets and artists are involved. Their physical detachment from homeland may actually make it an ever haunting presence on their emotional and imaginative landscapes. In such conditions the present absence of homeland may generate a paradoxical situation; on the one hand it may create a new subjective relationship with what you have left behind and on the other enable you to have an objective distance from it. The end result may be a start of creative exploration driven by angst and spiritual anguish which would mysteriously turn into an inspiration that triggers poetic process. The situation is not unique to Kanwal Javaid as it’s shared by a large number of poets and creative writers in diaspora.

“Kawaan Huth Saneha [Crows: the messengers]” is his latest book of poetry published by Sulaikh Publishers, Lahore. The book carries a broad selection of his Ghazals [Ghazal is a genre that has a number of couplets having diverse contents with exactly the same rhythmical pattern]. Ghazal is comparatively a recent phenomenon in Punjabi poetry usually shunned by modern poets but popular with so many who prefer for being simple and easily communicable. “Javaid Kanwal is our contemporary poet though a bit detached. Through his poetic window he can look at his surroundings with poise. The ebb and flow of time emerges from his words like a flame. His poetry expresses his personal experience and mental make-up of current age without ambiguity”, says well-known expatriate poet Mazhar Tirmazi in his blurb. “Dr. Javaid Kanwal’s poetry comes with a wide repertoire. Verses are like the raindrops of people’s wisdom of twentieth century and to an extant also of twenty first century which invigorate the crop of his verses”, tells us scholar Dr. Iftekhar Shafi.

Love of land and people, resistance against class exploitation and social hypocrisy, expose of repressive system and social inequality are some of important themes of his poetry. His simple but culture-laced expression directly communicates to the readers. His use of language, close to speech, is endearing. The very first verse in the book tells us much about his thinking and poetic vision: “You have plucked a flower for your top pocket/ what the flower bed will now go through, just think]”. Doesn’t it remind you of what Eric Fromm says in his book “Art of Loving”? The book is an enjoyable read. Buy it for your library. — soofi01@hotmail.com

Published in Dawn, July 27th, 2020

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